Karen Knowles of Johnson Ranch and her sister, Deanna Gargia, know a thing or two about kidney transplants. Their family has had several of them.
The two sisters are celebrating their lives and honoring the donors who gave them a second chance at the 2006 U.S. Transplant Games, an Olympics-style competition held every two years. Karen and Deanna are visiting the games in Louisville, Ky., for the first time, and will come back on Wednesday.
The athletes are all organ recipients. Karen will be competing in bowling, and Deanna is going as a supporter and a donor family member.
“The purpose of the games is to show people that we can live normal lives,” said Karen, 43, a registered nurse at Mercy Gilbert Medical Center. “We haven’t gone before because we’ve been too busy, which is a good thing.”
Karen, Deanna and their sister, Sandi Knowles, were all born with the same kidney disease — medullary cystic disease, which means they had cysts on a part of their kidneys.
Karen received a kidney transplant from her mom, Joanne Knowles, in 1979. Karen was lucky, and her body did not reject the kidney. However, she needs to take daily anti-rejection medication for the rest of her life.
Deanna, a Valley Farms resident, received her first kidney transplant in 1988, also from her mom. Deanna had been on the list for about five months when her 49-year-old mom died unexpectedly from a brain aneurysm. That kidney lasted 12 years before Deanna’s body rejected it.
Deanna was on dialysis for two years until she received a kidney from her cousin, Cindy Wilkinson.
Unfortunately, Deanna’s body rejected the kidney after a year and a half, and she has now been on dialysis for four years.
She is on the national list waiting for an available kidney.
The third sister, Sandi, received a kidney from her father, Bill Knowles of Coolidge, when she was 11.
Sandi’s body rejected the kidney after seven years, and she received three more kidney transplants from people who died.
After Sandi’s body rejected the fourth kidney, her immune system was depleted. She died at the age of 44 in June 2005 after complications from dialysis. She had been on dialysis for about 11 years.
Deanna and Karen are part of Transplant Team Arizona, a nonprofit team lead by John Landers of Scottsdale.
This year, the team has 29 athletes, four donor family members and four living donors primarily from the Valley and the Tucson area.
“It’s exciting to be able to talk to others because they know what we’re going through,” said Deanna, 39, a homemaker who spoke for several years on behalf of the Donor Network of Arizona. “There’s not a lot of public information out there about signing up. But it’s important to sign up and tell your family.”
The U.S. Transplant Games is a four-day event presented by the National Kidney Foundation.
Athletes compete for gold, silver and bronze medals in events such as cycling, badminton, tennis and track.
“I just think that Karen and Deanna are going to be thrilled that they came,” said Landers, 52, a heart recipient. “Knowing these two, they’re going to go out and save some lives.”
Organ donor registry
List: More than 92,000 Americans, 1,200 of them from Arizona, are on the transplant waiting list. A new name is added to the national list every 12 minutes, and 18 people a day die while waiting for an organ.
Registration: In Arizona, the option was removed from the driver’s license in 1997, so the only official way to register as an organ donor is to sign up on the Arizona Donor Registry via the Internet, by mailing in a completed and signed registration form, or by signing up at a Donate Life Station computer kiosk.
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